The game is won up front. At least that is how the old adage goes. And this was never more clear than in the Crusaders semifinal against the Stormers last night, as the Crusaders literally smashed up a confident Stormers side en-route to their tenth Super Rugby final.
The front row of Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn and Owen Franks was key in ensuring that the Crusaders got good ball all game, giving them plenty of scoring opportunities. They were dominant in the scrum and the two props (Crockett and Franks) would now have to be the front-runners for the All Black starting prop positions.
This, coupled with the ever-reliable boot of Daniel Carter, saw that the Stormers were completely shut out as the Crusaders cruised home 29-10, after leading 23-3 at the break.
Despite this, it was the Stormers who got the scoring underway, as Peter Grant slotted a penalty, giving the Stormers their only lead of the game.
But it was all Crusaders from here, as a Sean Maitland intercept, a Sonny Bill Williams-Robbie Fruean special and a handful of penalties from Carter saw the Crusaders pull away to a comfortable lead.
A second half fight back saw the Stormers gain some credibility, but it was never going to be enough.
The Crusaders were simply too good. Their defence was relentless. Making tackle after tackle, taking everything the Stormers threw at them. Indeed, the Stormers looked incapable of breaking the Crusaders line.
The three front-rowers were brutal in this department, putting in big hit after big hit, while the Crusaders looseforwards also stood out, comprehensively outplaying the Stormers trio. The locking pair of Brad Thorn and Sam Whitelock both gave efforts typical of their character and were very good in the lineouts.
An early injury to Andy Ellis saw Kahn Fotuali'i enter the game in the first 20 minutes and perform admirably, pairing well with star First-Five Dan Carter, who controlled the game well, putting in a very tidy performance.
The midfield was quiet, but combined brilliantly to score the second try of the match, as Sonny Bill Williams slipped one of his signature offloads to Robbie Fruean in what was an almost undefendable movement.
Zac Guilford and Sean Maitland were both dangerous all over the park, creating numerous opportunities. Going by current form, both make very valid All Black cases.
But ultimately it was in the tight five that the game was won. A dominant scrum and early dominance at ruck time were the keys.
The win was just the second time an overseas team has won a playoff match in South Africa and only the third time an overseas team has won a semifinal in any country.
They now have to travel back across the Indian Ocean, where they will take on the Reds in the Final next week in Brisbane. Surely the travel will have a large effect on the Crusaders. But if they take the same attitude into that game as they did into their last, they will no doubt complete their fairytale season and walk away with the silverware.
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